Professor Michelle Drouin (psychology) is a nationally-recognized researcher and keynote speaker, but her academic passion is educating. As a professor of psychology, she teaches introductory and developmental psychology courses. As a developmental psychologist, her research studies examine the effects of technology and digital media on literacy, teaching, and learning, as well as communication and relationships. Her research is often cited in the media, including prominent outlets like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. She also participates in videos, podcasts, and public speaking in her fields of expertise, including a talk at TEDxNaperville in 2015.
As a pre-med student at Cornell University, Drouin was enrolled in a massive Introduction to Psychology class with 1,500 students. Psychology came to her naturally, and always intrigued her. Eventually, both her professor and her boyfriend (now husband) inspired her to switch majors. To this day, she says, “It never feels like work. It always feels like discovery and learning in a way that is enriching my existence as a human being.”
Her work on campus gives Drouin the opportunity to advance her research. She runs a very active research lab. “I have about 15 undergrads or recently graduated students who either [work in the lab] for credit or as a volunteer. They work on the many projects that we always have going on. I consider that an integral part of my teaching.”
Drouin’s studies on sexting have received significant media attention. And while sexting seems totally removed from her doctoral thesis on the literacy development of preschoolers, the evolution of her research occurred naturally. Her original studies of texting focused on its effects on literacy. After studying general word-based messages, she began looking at other things people were texting each other, including pictures and sexual messages.
Drouin’s current research is a cross-cultural study in collaboration with Brandon T. McDaniel of Illinois State University and Adam Galovan at the University of Alberta. Their study examines the effects of sexting on relationships in the United States and Canada. The research “has shown that there aren’t really any positive correlates of sexting in a normal adult, committed relationship. With regard to younger couples,” she says, “the jury’s still out whether it’s something that’s positive. But the research that I’ve cited before worked with young adults, so you still see insecure attachment patterns, and you see a lot of regret and worries, especially within the context of casual sex relationships.”
Personally against sexting, Drouin says her findings do not surprise her. “I believe that sexting is a risky activity, and people who are in committed relationships don’t necessarily need that… I find myself in this very conservative position [regarding sexting], when actually, in terms of my life views, I’m pretty liberal. I mean, I’m studying something that a lot of people wouldn’t even study.”
And Drouin’s research goals are not complete. “One of the things that I think this research lends itself to,” Drouin says, “is looking at the changes in sexting as you go through the relationship life course. How does it differ between young adults and people who are married, for example. But it would also be useful to see what purposes sexting serves in different time periods of a relationship. I think that that’s a really promising direction.”
Off campus, Drouin says her life revolves around her family, including her college-sweetheart husband of 25 years, and hockey. “My husband used to play hockey, and my two sons, who are eight and ten, they play hockey, so on an average weeknight you’ll find me just sitting at an arena somewhere with my laptop, trying to get work done while my kids have practice.”
For more, read Drouin’s study “Sexting Profiles in the United States and Canada: Implications for Individual and Relationship Well-Being,” watch her Tedx Talk, or visit her website for contact info.
Want to hear Drouin talk about her research live? Now you can! On Wednesday, April 11, First United Methodist Church in Auburn will be hosting the second annual Children’s Summit, and Drouin will be the morning keynote speaker. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required for the free lunch (registration deadline is March 28). Register and learn more about the event here.
By Joseph VanBuren
Arts & Sciences Intern